Trustees visit Café Mac for dinner, questions

By Zac Farber

You should take off your tie, Blythe Austin ’08, liaison cum fashion guru to the Board of Trustees, told 6-foot-5-inch ex-Green Bay Packers tackle Lee Nystrom ’73. Nystrom obliged Austin’s request, eager to avoid a faux pas of formality that could upset his chances of engaging in an open dialogue with students during Monday night’s student-trustee dinner, the third event of the academic year aimed at improving Board transparency.Nystrom joined five of his colleagues and President Brian Rosenberg at one of the three reserved tables in the south side of Cafe Mac. Twenty students trickled over, filling spaces between the trustees. It was a lackluster showing, compared with the 80 students who attended the November dinner and the 30 students who attended an October conversation with the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, the interim Board chair.

The 20 students, primarily student government representatives and members of trustee commissions, came with questions, and the initially awkward atmosphere soon evaporated, replaced by lively conversation.

The main concern was the affordability of Macalester after the recent tuition hike.

“When I applied,” said Michael Richter ’10, a student representative on the Board’s advancement committee, “I was reading the [Fiske Guide to Colleges], and it said Macalester was a ‘best buy.’ I don’t know if it still says that but if it doesn’t, that’s a concern because that did factor into my decision.”

“It better,” freshman trustee Mel Collins ’75 replied readily.

Trustee-student repartee flowed freely during the two-hour-long meeting, which included discussion of Residential Life alcohol and sexual harassment policies, the college’s surplus, and the Sudan divestment proposal being considered by MCSG.

On the divestment issue, Rosenberg was keen for student input, conferring with Brian Stephenson ’10, the MCSG vice president, and Sandy Robson ’08, the proposal’s main advocate.

“Sandy, how do you respond to the slippery slope argument?” Rosenberg asked with a smirk, referring to the argument against divesting from companies affiliated with Sudan, which claims that while divesting from companies involved in Sudan would not hurt Macalester financially, it could lead to other socially responsible investment tactics that could hurt the college’s returns.

“It is a slippery slope,” Robson conceded, saying that the divestment proposal is both easy to implement and worthwhile because the offending companies have been identified and because it is painless to the college.

One student was thankful for the opportunity to speak with the influential trustees.

“The fact that you guys are having a dinner like this does mean a lot,” Cara Weggler ’10 told Collins, “the fact that you’re so far up there but still accessible.